Grading of students by age is not always a good thing

Educators want to try a new way of grading students’ work in school. They call it ‘effort based grading’, which sounds like the same old, tired, touchy, feely, ‘it’s okay if you’re failing as long as you feel good about it’ type of nonsense that should be deleted immediately. Having three children that the schools determined as gifted and talented, and one child developmentally disabled, I have experienced both ends of the spectrum.

For many years, faster students have been held back to the learning pace of slower learners. All this was to maintain ‘grade level’ age groups and not hurt slower student’s feelings by allowing the faster students to work ahead, perhaps even moving up a grade level because they had the ability. This still goes on today and frustrates faster students into quitting school because they are bored.

Asking faster students to tutor slower ones sometimes works in the short run, but in the long run maintaining ‘grade level’ age groups would still prevail. Why not just do away with grade level numbers and have each student progress at the speed that suits them best, rather like some of the old one-room schools did. Once a student finishes all of what is now considered a grade levels material let them move on to the next grade level in a smooth transition. This way they are less likely to get bored with maintaining the slower pace of others and more students might actually finish school. What does it matter if they finish earlier than others their age?

Another issue is interest based learning. If a student is found to be a fast learner and has an interest in engineering, make their studies more directed to that end. Their math, English, science, and computer studies could all have some basis in that interest keeping them more focused on their studies. Nurturing their desire to learn more about what interests them by giving them studies in that direction could develop the next Einstein, Curie, Salk, or Tesla.

At the same time the slower students could progress at their own speed, learning the basics first, then moving on to the fields that interest them. No one should be forced to gain an education in a circumscribed amount of time. Some might finish their basic education expectations in five years while others might take fifteen. They can be equally smart and still operate at different speeds. Just look at the ‘genius’ kids attending college before they reach their teen years.

Keeping children within age groups for education is a problem to be solved. Keeping them interested in what they are learning is a challenge. Getting rid of the ‘grade level’ and ‘age level’ boundaries makes sense, just like getting rid of the old ideas that girls are better at some things and boys are better at others.

Our children are our greatest treasures and should be treated as such. Let’s give them the tools to move forward and succeed in life, but at the speed that works best for them. While we are at it we should go back to the system of percentage based grading of work. Percentage based grading of work is the most effective way to let a student know just how they are doing. Curve grading is unfair to both ends of the spectrum. Feelings based, or effort based grading is stupid. At least if a kid is getting 90% of the answers right on a test that kid knows he or she is doing really well. When they get down to the 70% level they know how much room there is for improvement and, if their studies interest them, there is a better chance of them being motivated to improve their scores.

Make it interesting, make it at their speed of learning, and open their minds to the possibilities open to them in the future and the sky is no longer the limit. If the students are bored, the school board needs to change their policies. If they don’t, some of those bored students may be the next board members.